Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 56

Submission from the Churches Main Committee


  1.  The Churches Main Committee is an ecumenical body that brings together all the major churches in the United Kingdom (and, because Churches Together in England is a member, many of the smaller churches in England as well), together with the United Synagogue: a note of our membership in England is annexed.


  2.  HEFCE's proposals to cease funding for those undertaking training for a qualification equivalent to or lower than one that they already hold presents particular problems for theological education—as the Chairman of the Committee himself implied during the recent debate on the proposals: see HC Deb (2007-08) 8 January 2008 c 252.

  3.  The problem is that, increasingly, people feel a call to ministry in mid-life after professional careers in very diverse fields, with the result that a high proportion of them will already have at least a first degree before beginning training. The consequence is that, according to the best information that we have, approximately 75% of those currently training in Church of England colleges hold degrees equivalent to or higher than those for which they are studying in order to qualify them for ordination. For the Methodist Church the figure is approximately 40%; and it is likely that that experience is replicated across the major churches. Moreover, those proportions are likely to rise in future as the effects of earlier expansions of higher education work through the system: there are now more graduates in their 30s than there were 20 years ago simply because there were more undergraduate university places in the 1990s than in the 1970s.


  4.  HEFCE's proposals envisage exemption for studies preparing people for socially-desirable occupations and especially for studies that help to build social cohesion. The Churches Main Committee would contend very strongly that training for ministry, whether lay or ordained, should qualify for such an exemption for various reasons.

  5.  First, good mutual understanding between faiths is a crucial element in building social cohesion. This has been recognised in a number of recent Government initiatives, including the recent proposal for a national framework for teaching religious education in schools, the announcement of the establishment under the auspices of the Department of Communities and Local Government of the Faith Communities Consultative Council, and the establishment of the new Faith and Social Cohesion Unit by the Charity Commission. We would argue that understanding between faiths can only be built up by contacts and discussions between people who have been properly educated in the faiths that they profess. A dialogue of the ignorant will help no-one—and that implies even greater efforts than at present towards high-quality theological education both for clergy and laity.

  6.  Secondly, the vast majority of training for the ministries of the Christian churches in England is carried out in colleges that are associated with universities. This, in our view, has two mutual benefits. Academic departments of religious studies are able to draw on the particular expertise of staff in their associated theological colleges to teach some of their degree modules, particularly in specialist areas such as pastoral studies and liturgy. In addition, the fact of studying within the wider context of a secular university helps the rounded formation of the candidates themselves, exposing them to the views of others—of all faiths and none—and preventing them from concentrating too narrowly on the purely "professional" side of their training. It also means that they benefit from a wider range of teachers with a wider range of expertise—and a wider range of views. We would agree entirely with the House of Bishops of the Church of England that to isolate candidates for ministerial training into narrowly-focused seminaries would do no service at all to social cohesion.

  7.  Thirdly, ministers of religion who are doing their jobs conscientiously are themselves agents of social cohesion. Unlike most professional people they almost invariably live where they are called to serve. The result of this is that in deprived inner-city areas the local clergy (of whatever denomination) may be the only educated professionals living in the locality; and that, in itself, gives them an important social role quite separate from their religious one.


  8.  If as a result of HEFCE's proposals universities seek to charge higher university fees for ministerial students, the impact of the change on ministerial training is going to be quite considerable and felt right across the denominations. For the reasons set out above we would ask that ministerial training should be exempted from the proposed changes.

January 2008



Apostolic Church

Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland

Association of Grace Baptist Churches (SE)

Baptist Union of Great Britain

Church of Christ Scientist

Church of England

Churches Together in England

Congregational Federation

Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance

Evangelical Alliance

Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches

Free Churches Group

General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain

Independent Methodist Churches

London City Mission

Lutheran Council of Great Britain

Methodist Church

Moravian Church

Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales

Salvation Army

Seventh-Day Adventist Church

United Reformed Church

United Synagogue

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